Covid killed the comedy star! Well, to be more accurate, covid regulations did, covid just gave him a little flu for two days, which he didn’t even get sympathy for. Even those dearest to him, rebuked him with vile, accusations such as, “Well Aidan, you had that coming, didn’t you? That’s what you get for going around, willy nilly, with no mask on and licking door handles on public transport.” To be fair, I rarely lick door handles, especially nowadays since they all taste like ethanol, from people’s overwhelming tendency to attack their gut’s microbes with hand sanitiser. Who needs the gut to support the immune system nowadays anyway?
Comedy, as we know it, is dead and there won’t even be a funeral. If there was one, the few invited, would have to wear masks, socially distance and they would not be allowed hug each other or drop the hand in the church, even if their hands were fully sanitised or warm within the comfort of gloves. This time last year, my comedy club in Singapore, The Merry Lion, was flourishing, despite some worrisome whispers of a wicked Wuhan virus. The Wuhan virus turned into the Covid virus and the worrisome whispers turned into ruthless regulations. The fun packed comedy club turned into a room with empty chairs.
At first, some audience members wore masks at the shows and so the comics made friendly jokes. These jokes became more common, more practiced but yet, as overly crafted jokes so often become, less funny. Then social distancing became a thing, and so we measured the tables one metre apart, creating distance between the audience members which is the exact opposite of what comedy is supposed to do. Does a joke not create the audible expression of merriment? In that moment when a punch line lands, and laughter explodes from multiple mouths instantaneously, simultaneously, concomitantly, do we not become one? In such eruption of joy, there is a communal understanding and appreciation, where our minds become silent and our bodies convulse into a free-flowing dance of contagious, silly giggles, chuckles or full-hearted noises that sound like, ‘Ha Ha Ha’. Anyway, I’m not saying that all comics are enlightened, healer, shaman, prophets who use humour as a tool to create Truth and Love, like myself, but I do believe the one thing we have in common, is that we love bringing people together in the name of laughter. ‘For where two or three are gathered together in laughter, I am giggling among them.’
The police arrived at the comedy club one night, uninvited may I add, without a ticket between them or any desire to watch stand-up comedy. They were not there to investigate the theft or moral corruption of a previous manager of the bar, they were not there to giggle either, no, no, no, they came to examine the distance between our tables with their inspecting eyes. They stared at each individual inch of space as if it were a potential murderer. That night, we did not get the $10,000 fine but the fear of such a ferocious fine left a lingering, thunderous threat of fear in the air that could be smelled even through the constant stench of ethanol. Thankfully, we did not get fined, and the police went on their merry way to inspect other venue’s competency to create sufficiently sized table-gaps. As someone on the internet once wrote, “Blessed are the peacekeepers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Even without a massive fine, it wasn’t possible to be financially viable at 30% capacity. I started to worry that someone might laugh so hard (especially if I was on stage) that they might have a knee-jerk reaction and move one of our portable tables an inch to the side as they loudly guffawed at yet another funny mask joke. Worrying about a $10k fine, alongside worrying about how to keep the business alive was about as fun as hanging out with Bill Gates and his infamous kiddy-fiddler buddy, Jeffry Epstein on the Lolita express. Nevertheless, we remained open for business, paid our rent and bills, while hoping it would be a passing phase. ‘This too shall pass’ said Gautama the Buddha. Once again, he was right, it was a passing phase. The next phase was banning live entertainment and closing bars. They closed us down and just like that, the laugher was gone, but surely this too was a phase, right? Eh Buddha, hello, can you hear me? Is this thing even on?
No, because the electricity had been turned off!
In Singapore, live entertainment was not allowed because of covid. No more entertainment licenses were given because of covid. People told us we needed to change our model to survive. Yes, Charles Darwin did say, ’it’s not the strongest of the species who survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change’ but that quote does not really help right now, you big bearded, monkey. ‘Adjust to the new norm’, they said. ‘Go online’, they said. We were proud to be Singapore’s only full-time comedy club, and now they want us to sell take-away coffees and wear red noses on Zoom. We are comics who have performed to packed rooms filled with live audiences laughing their asses off and now you expect us to make jokes to a laptop. Please, be serious! We have felt the swaying of an elephant’s shoulders and now you expect us to get on the back of an ass? Please, be serious! We begrudgingly, paid the rent while praying to the comedy gods to intervene, and it appeared Billy Connelly, Richard Prior, Bill Hicks and Phil Kay heard our prayers because the government paid our rent. We should have prayed harder or watched their comedy clips more often and told them how we adore them and would never believe in any other comics, or maybe, we mistakenly used anal beads instead of rosary beads because, suddenly the comedy gods stopped shining their favour upon us. After a few months, the government stopped paying rent, the lease was not renewed, and we were told to pack up the microphones and leave. Mea culpa. I knew I should not have purchased those rosary beads at Ann Summers.
We waved goodbye to the painted mural of Bill Hicks. Do you know Bill Hicks? Please check him out. He truly cared for humanity, he was free, funny and passionate on stage with something to say, and just like our comedy club, he died far too young. However, unlike Bill, we did not die alone. There was a mass grave for comedy clubs where we were placed in with the same tenderness and respect given to the Tuam babies in Ireland (who were killed by vaccine experiments under the loving care of the Irish state, but shush, don’t say a bad word about vaccines or the pro-vaxxers will release their deadly venom. Have you not heard that all vaccines are good and if you question them you are an anti vaxxer, lunatic with a big nose and hairy, smelly, overgrown toes)? The mass grave has comedy clubs thrown in together, one on top of another, from all over world. I have heard of many clubs dying all over Asia, Ireland, UK, South Africa, and even the great United States of America. At least we died together, guys! Finally, we can realise that we were never competing against one another, and we truly are all part of one. One big hilarious cosmic joke.
What about the promoters, the business owners, the bar staff, the sound technicians, the candlestick makers, and the hot girl who takes your money at the door? Well, she has a real job, so she is fine. Really Fine! (Sleazy face, hello ‘door girl, do you come with the ticket?’). What about the comics who live off comedy? What about the open mics who had a dream? What about the spoken word artists that came once a month and opened their hearts while drinking far too much whiskey?
And what about our cleaner, Mr. Lok? He really needed the money. He told me that he sent it home to his wife every month and I believed him. He is not the sort of man who would lie. He didn’t even drink. When I offered him drinks for free, I remember he would appreciate the gesture, thank me, and join me for a cool non-alcoholic drink. He would sit with me and test his new English words on me, and I would smile and nod while trying, puzzling, struggling to join the words together. I remember the first day I met him, he was painting furiously on a ladder above his boss, and somehow, through the fury of paint brush swishes, he heard me say on the phone that I needed a cleaner. When his boss was not around, he approached me with his broken English, ‘You need cleaner, sir? Me can be cleaner.’ My name Lok. Lok is painter. Lok is cleaner. Lok can do everything, sir.”
“Sir” is a title used by the British monarchy, and a very low title at that, if someone insists on using a title for me, they should use my correct title, King. However, I do not believe he meant any offence, so I smiled and enjoyed his respect, which I mirrored back to him. I respected his courage and strength. ‘You’ve got the job.’ The business owner in me knew I could have got him to work cheap but the human in me paid Mr. Lok waaaay over the going rate. I trusted him, gave him his own key and wanted to know more about him. He loves Bangladesh. He missed his wife. He works 6 days a week and cleaned my bar on his day off. He likes work, works hard and wants to learn English but does not get much opportunity. He does not drink alcohol and looks at me worryingly and with sympathy every time I open a beer. His face lights up with gratitude when I give him a coke. He usually drinks the tap water but never seems to sweat no matter how hard he works. He hung up the signed picture of Billy Connelly and painted the edges without me having to ask. His English is terrible. His smile is beautiful. He has passion in his heart and alertness in his eyes. I love that man, and it broke my heart when I told him that I could not pay him anymore.
I put 3 years into building that club and invested well over $50,000. That’s all gone now. Ah well, such is life. Such is the way the comedy cookie crumbles but who is going to put the cookies back together again? Who would take such a risk when we know the business can be whimsically whipped away faster that our human rights are being trapped upon. I don’t want to sound like a negative Nuala, but I’m not sure if the comedy scene is coming back? The clubs are dead and buried, with Bill Hicks in the grave. The promoters are burnt, broken and bankrupt, and many of the bars, hotels and comedy venues shall cease to exist unless the lockdowns end. How can lockdown end when people still think that using hand sanitiser is better than soap? How can it end when people believe in the media and the magic power of masks and lockdowns, despite all the data and facts available? Even if the fear and hysteria stopped today, the economy would still take the biggest ass-spanking of all time. And I’m not talking about the sensual type of spanking Maggie Gyllenhaal got in The Secretary, I’m talking about the Mad Max kind of ass spanking.
Luckily, many of the comics have survived through this challenging time because the governments gave them enough money to pay for food, booze, and joints, so they can numb their way through the mundanity of yet another lockdown. They are not allowed earn a living or follow their passion on stage, but the king’s shilling sure does soften the blow, as well as their voices. They are waiting for the day they can all get-together and laugh about this on stage. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Maybe this time the media and government mean what they say? Hoping, hoping, hoping. It’s ‘Just two weeks.’ What happens when all the borrowed money is gone, and the comics are broke? What comedy clubs shall remain for the comic to perform at? If a comic supports lockdowns and enjoys government handouts but all the comedy clubs fall down, and no one hears or laughs at their new mask jokes, are they still a comic?
I was originally suspicious when they said, ‘we just need to flatten the curve’, and the lockdown ‘will only be for a few weeks’ but, by now, even that strange fellow, alone in his car, armed with both a mask and a face-shield, knows that this is the ‘new norm,’ but this strange fellow has accepted it, and is as prepared as a grown-up scout. It’s been a year and people’s businesses and lives are flattened but the curve is still so darn curvy. If your first thought is that the curve would be even more curvaceous if there were no regulations, you need to watch V for Vendetta.
I left banking to be a stand up. I did it for the laughs not the cash. I messed up plenty along the way, but I travelled the world, made some great friends, and had some great adventures along the way. I am grateful for making a decent living and for the opportunity to learn about myself, others and the world. Thanks to the promoters and business owners for your hard work, despite it being such a thankless job, thanks to the comics for being funny and brave enough to die on your ass, thanks to all those secret angels who supported me with kind words, your ideas, labour, skills, time, listening, inspiration, and love. Thanks to all the staff and, Thank you Mr. Lok for your courage, we shall meet again.
Most of all, thanks for the laughs.
From an x comic, looking for the next adventure,